Reviewed by Tony Cummings
I've known about Ray Butcher for years. He released an excellent 'War On The Saints' album in 2010, he appeared on the dance mix version of Martin Smith's "God's Great Dance Floor", and he's a Stokey to boot. But I was utterly stunned by the quality of this new album and he clearly demonstrates that, along with Raul D'Oliveira, he is the UK Church's best trumpeter. In America, there's been a fairly popular subgenre called gospel jazz, which usually consists of Kerry G-styled renditions of hymns and worship songs which are often of questionable quality. Ray hasn't fallen into that stylistic trap. Instead, he's assembled some magnificent musicians, including alto saxophonist Chris Young, pianist Tim Amarn, bassist Mike Green and drummer Miles Levin, and with the help of some great guests like saxman Julian Wiggins, cellist Helen Edgar and, on two tracks, vocalist Sian O Duill offers nine original compositions that range from the joyful bebop of "Impressions" to the haunting mood piece "Lizard Point". The playing is exceptional and this has to be one of the best jazz sets to emerge from the UK scene since the cutting edge era of Tubby Hayes. Every track here is deftly arranged. My absolute favourite on 'Lion's Den' is "After Midnight", where he's taken the mood and feel of Miles Davis' classic "Round About Midnight" and with some sublime muted trumpet tones creates a moody soundscape crying out for a video. Throughout, Ray's playing shows echoes of many of the giants - Chet Baker, Nat Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie and particularly Wynton Marsalis - though oddly I couldn't hear any Louis Armstrong stylings, even though Ray named Satchmo in his biography as a big influencer. What I did hear was a top rate musician and his friends playing with warmth and fluidity to create a gem of a jazz album.
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